aotearoa // new zealand - Victoria Saint Martin

my semester abroad 

dear lord where do I start?! I'll try and just hit the key points here, as you can imagine I could go on forever about this!

New Zealand was always on my bucket list (yes I actually have a bucket list) but it actually wasn't my first choice to study abroad. I thought about studying art in Italy but I figured I could return to Italy fairly easily and knowing myself I needed more of an adventure.

My sister actually spent a month abroad in Australia, so I had this idea of studying there as well. I met with my study abroad counselor and she asked me what sorts of things I was interested in doing out in Australia. "bungee jumping, skydiving, snorkeling, hiking, and taking pictures... nothing out of the ordinary!" she, herself, had studied in Wellington, New Zealand and told me that this country invented adventure. she went on about how great the city was, how easy it was to travel around in the small country, the beauty and safety (not sure if you know but everything in Australia wants to kill you)  of the islands were just a plus!

I. was. hooked.

I went on the trip with a study abroad program called international studies abroad (ISA). I met my first friends here, all other Americans from all over the states. I remember looking around and tried to figure out who would end up in my city of choice, at my school, who I would end up spending the most time with, how my life was changing right in front of me!

the first night we all spent together in the country we went to a traditional family owned marae (a religious meeting house of the Maori natives). our hosts taught us so much about their rich culture including some vocabulary. whānau (pronounced fāno) ended up being our little motto or mantra; it means family and that's exactly what we ended being, one big whānau. 

Wellington was one of the most unique cities I had ever been in! it was so artsy and cute, and incredibly tiny compared to Chicago! murals painted on every building, a farmer's market every sunday on the water front, Mount Victoria overlooking the bay and facing the south island, and cuba street.  cuba street was the hub of the city where everyone would shop around, head to the weekly night markets for delicious street food dinners and watch street performers! I lived in student apartments with local flatmates, 5 of us cramped into a tiny flat with a tiny kitchen and a closet of a bathroom. a lot of my ISA whānau was also based in Wellington but only 3 others went to my university. we went to Massey University, a college completely dedicated to the arts in the artiest city in the world! 

some of the craziest stories I have in this beautiful country happened on my spring break trip. my 2 friends and I rented a campervan for the 2 weeks we had off and set out to road trip the south island! the 3 of us sleeping in a campervan made to sleep 2 for 20 days. needless to say, we escaped to some hostels a few of the nights just to catch up on sleep and shower! down south we met up with some of our other whānau as well and even had a bit of a reunion with some of the other ISA whānau that went to Auckland University 

cathedral cliffs

here are the highlights of the trip:

-driving on the left side of the road took some getting used to

-we snuggled every night and the further south we got, body heat and a few blankets just didn't seem to do the trick anymore

-we set out to do a little snowboarding, but we aren't as used to the mountainous roads as the locals were, little did we know we would have to truck the van up the entire mountain (not even exaggerating). the road was vertically straight, only fit one car, and was completely loose gravel with no railing stopping us from falling to our deaths. when we finally reached the top of the mountain, the slopes were bunny hills (I feel like there is some irony in that) so we ended up just snow tubing instead of snowboarding.

-in the freezing Mount Cook National Park as I was making dinner out of our trunk the gas canister was low so we changed it and the back of the van caught on fire, no joke. needless to say we bought our dinners or cooked them on the campground kitchens there on out. 

-we lived of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and adrenaline

-we went bungee jumping at the first bridge anyone in the whole world ever bungeed off of. 43m over the most beautiful teal river

-we skydived 12,000ft high, the most surreal and liberating feeling in the whole world 

needless to say- it. was. wild. 

don't believe me? check out the video

south island road trip

I also road tripped up north with some friends, (make friends with a local who has a car when studying abroad). we headed up to the Coromandel Peninsula, known for hot water beach (a beach when at low tide you can dig your own hot tub in the sand) and the Cathedral Cove (or locally known as the sleeping dragon because of the way the rock is formed, it literally looks like a sleeping dragon). we had some mishaps there as well with being on the wrong side of the peninsula, we had to drive an hour over the mountains every day we were there and getting poured of the entire time. I even ended up being late to my only final exam because we had to stay an extra day because of the weather. 

life lesson in traveling; even when you plan ahead, nothing goes as planned

lastly, I'll talk about my road trip with my mom. she was wonderful enough to come and visit me and let me show her around and explore new areas as well with her. we walked all over Wellington, went down to Queenstown, saw Milford Sound, saw the Wanaka lavender fields and ate delicious lavender chocolate, saw the Franz Joseph Glacier (no disrespect but you can skip this one if you were planning on heading there), went to see the famous teal Hokitika Gorge, kayaked in Abel Tasman, saw the Great Lake Taupo, witnessed the magical Waitomo glow worms, and relaxed on hot water beach and took the ferry over to Waiheke Island with a local friend.

my entire stay in New Zealand was surreal and I miss it every day. this is not to say I didn't get homesick or didn't have an adjustment period but overall looking back I can't imagine not having this experience in my life or not having the people I met there in my life now. I thank my parents so much for this once in a lifetime experience and my whānau for making the experience what it was, simply bliss.


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